To the editor,
I’ve been reflecting on the “bad apples” argument and trying to figure out a way to help others (white people like myself) understand systemic racism and why the “bad apples” argument doesn’t work. I’ll begin with this — how do you get “bad apples”? Is it the weather, bugs, or fungus? Sure, but it’s really about genetics, what’s in the soil, and what’s in the water. What impact, then, does the seed have on the apples? I’m not talking about the seed inside of the apple — I’m talking about the seed from which the apple tree grew.
The seed actually has quite a bit of impact on the tree. So let’s work through this. Think of an apple tree as an institution — the Injustice System, Higher Education, Church, Banks, etc. are all institutions. These are our trees. These trees grew from a seed, a seed that was sewn almost 1,000 years ago by incredibly racist human beings. The racist leaders watered the seed racist ideas, fed the soil racist theories, and eventually watched the seed sprout into an incredibly racist apple tree sprout and eventually a racist fruiting tree.
Then, we (our white ancestors and yes, you, me, and any white person reading this) have continued to water and feed that racist tree. It has produced and continues to produce a lot of “bad apples”. Over time we’ve tried cross pollinating, we’ve tried treating with fungicide, we’ve tried to treat the soil and the tree so that it produces more “good apples”.
But we will never have a tree full of good apples — why? Because it’s in the seed, it’s in the roots, it’s in the water that gets sucked up through the roots that feeds the tree. That’s what systemic racism is — it’s the very life blood of the tree (i.e., the institutions). We can’t treat the tree anymore — that’s what needs to be heard.
Treatment isn’t working. If we want to have a tree full of good apples, we have to tear down the tree, dig up the roots, get rid of that old soil, find a new planting place, find better soil, create a new seed, and begin watering and feeding that seed with the sweetest anti-racist water and fertilizer we can create. Then and only then will we have an anti-racist tree full of “good apples.”
Katherine Ann Jordan